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New Jersey and New York voters head to the polls as control of Congress hangs in the balance

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Across New Jersey, union members from 32BJ SEIU are going door to door to encourage voter turnout

WBGO reporter Bob Hennelly joins News Director Doug Doyle to preview the midterm elections

DOYLE: Voting is already underway in New Jersey and New York as well as throughout the nation. While the presidency is not at stake this year, control of both the House of Representatives and the US Senate are very much in play with Democrats facing an uphill battle to maintain their tenuous control of both houses.

With us now to talk about the midterm elections is WBGO’s Bob Hennelly. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

HENNELLY: Thanks for having me.

DOYLE: This is going to be the first federal election since the January 6 insurrection and the highly controversial 2020 presidential election. There's a lot more at stake this time then control of Congress isn't there?

HENNELLY: Yes, because the question of 2020 is still for many people a jump a ball, even though there was no finding of fraud and all the challenges that were put

across by Trump and his supporters in the courts were rejected. There's been no independent confirmation of any election fraud of of any quantity that would have had an impact on the result. We are still seeing around the country.

I think by some estimates, 60% of voters will have to choose candidates for Senate or the House that deny that the 2020 election was won by President Biden. This will be unprecedented territory.

And so, if the Republicans gained control, of the Senate or House or both, what we'll see is a suspension of the January 6 process the commission that was put together that is composed of members of the House, Republican and Democrat, who've been looking into the situation that led up to the insurrection.

They have so far managed to raise serious questions about the role of the sitting president at the time, Donald Trump. We've even had situations where parts of the national security agencies, that are part of the bedrock, got themselves caught up in the scandal. We saw the Secret Service lose key texts that would account for what they did that day and what they knew running up to it.

So, it could mean that the insurrection prevailed in the sense that election deniers would be in control and the party that supports the GOP if they win back, Congress,

DOYLE: Historically, turnout in the off-year elections lags the presidential year by a lot. We saw a real uptick in 2020 Will we see the same level of engagement carry over for the congressional races?

HENNELLY: Historically, it's important to note that Americans participation in elections lags the rest of the world and averages for presidential years around 60 percent off your congressional about 40 percent. And to give you a sense in 2020 there was an uptick to 66.7 percent of eligible voters that turned out in in the presidential election -- up considerably from 60 percent in 2016. In the historically in the off-year election, like the prior year 2014 That was before the 2016 presidential election 36.7 percent turned out but that jumped in 2018 to 50 percent, which was like a decade's high and it's important to know that here in New Jersey we were engaged in a big way. 75.3 percent turned out in 2020 well above the national average, and 53 percent turned out in that 2018 off your congressional election. And 2020 By contrast in New York State was really a laggard 63 percent turned out for that battle between Trump and Biden at only 45.7 percent turned out for the 2018 midterm when Democrats really asserted themselves and captured the house.

DOYLE: So, let's talk about this year's issues. What issues seem to be in play from all the reporting you've done?

HENNELLY: Well, there's no doubt about the fact that we are still dealing with the aftereffects of the economic dislocation from the pandemic. And so, you have a situation where we have a run up in inflation. There's bread and butter issues of households restoring themselves after getting the price of oil and gas at the pump under control. We've just seen an uptick again, as voters head to the polls. We've also seen a lot of anxiety related to health care.

We've covered the fact that we saw in New Jersey, where public workers are looking at a 20 to 24 percent increase in premiums for their health insurance. Similar battles are going on with the New York City public workforce. Across the country, federal workers are seeing potentially a double digit increase which means that in this inflationary environment, whatever little bit of additional pay raise they might get, when you factor in the healthcare premiums, will be a pay cut.

So, there's a lot of anxiety out there about economic issues. In addition to the anxiety related to these economic pressures, we're also seeing the the opportunity present itself for voters to weigh in for the

first time since the Supreme Court, basically, reversed Roe vs. Wade, which turns on its head, a 50-year precedent that protected the right of women to have control over their bodies in form of reproductive freedom. That's an unprecedented rollback of human rights. We've never experienced anything like that Doug. The American story, up to now, has been a progression of progress, some setbacks, but overall, we've been moving towards a more perfect union. This was a surprise in the sense that for years Republicans said it was going to happen and I think they're gonna be like the dog that caught the bus because the reaction across the country has been resounding. We've seen some races that weren't in play --where Republicans were going to win, all of the sudden very much in play

DOYLE: With control of the House of Representatives likely to be determined by just a handful races, which ones in New Jersey are commanding national attention?

HENNELLY: There's no doubt about it that the 7th congressional district where Representative Tom Malinowski, the Democratic incumbent is the race that is being most watched. He's going up against a name that's well known in New Jersey, Thomas Kean Jr. He was the Minority Leader in the Senate. Of course, he is the son of

Tom Kean Sr., a widely respected and admired Governor, as well as former co-chair of the 911 Commission. Malinowski ran into some trouble with some of his stock holdings. He did run afoul of some ethics regulations. He came out of the Obama State Department.

This is the first year that we're going to be using this new congressional map because we've had the census and so it has tipped a little bit towards Tom Kane's benefit in the sense that there's more Republicans added into it. And so the 7CD really is going to be a bellwether, and of course, the big challenge for Tom Kean is the fact that he has had an odd relationship with the Trump wing--- in some ways he's flirted with it---very much moving to the right from what we normally expect New Jersey Republicans historically to do. But that's been happening for a long time where mainstream or moderate Republicans have had to migrate to the right to get the enthusiasm from the base that seems to be really driving the party.

DOYLE: That race is really the one that we see most when it comes to ads on television---for the control of that one, but not anything like we see in the Pennsylvania races where they're just bombarding the media and viewers. In New York, voters are choosing a governor. Give us your sketch of that race.

HENNELLY: So, you have Governor Kathy Hochul, out of Buffalo. She was lieutenant governor for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in kind of a real flameout related to some allegations related to improprieties of sexual nature. She came in and kind of stabilized the state even though the pandemic wasn't fully resolved. She's being challenged by a very energized candidate and former House member Lee Zeldin, out of Suffolk County. And in the last couple of days, I must tell, you that this race is tightening.

One of the issues that you know, is that Zeldin as his own baggage with trying to maintain relationships with the Trump base that are election denialists. It is a challenge not unlike Tom Kean’s in the 7th CD. Zeldin has tried to moderate to the center so that he can appeal to the independents that are determinative in any race in a state like New York. And yet, the reality is that it's a situation where the Congressional races are also going to have an impact here or you could have the effect of people turning out for the gubernatorial race, which usually bumps up turnout. Hochul could be a beneficiary of Democrats feeling that these Congressional races really matter. And Republicans, motivated by Zeldin to turnout could benefit the Republicans running for Congress.

DOYLE: Which House races s in New York will you be looking most closely at because of their potential national ramifications?

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
WBGO reporter Bob Hennelly (left) joins News Director Doug Doyle to preview the midterm elections

HENNELLY: Certainly, Staten Island’s CD 11 where you have Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican incumbent. She's being challenged by Max Rose who himself was a congressman. That was a flip situation where he won the seat in 2018 but couldn’t hold it. And so now, it's kind of a rematch, but we're seeing all the same national issues played out locally in our listening area.

DOYLE: A lot of people are still concerned about what happens with the counting ballots and how that all happens. And before we go, what should voters do if they show up at the polls and their name is not on the rolls?

HENNELLY: They shouldn't be fainthearted. And it's important to know that people died for the right to vote. And we owe it those individuals to go to the polls, to make sure that we assert ourselves in a polite way if there’s an issue. Everyone, in New York and New Jersey, has a right to it's called a provisional ballot. And you just

find the poll worker or the official there and you respectfully ask for a provisional ballot.

This is a kind affidavit. They will give it to you to fill it out. You explain what you think you know and that you believe that you are entitled to vote because it does happen, especially with the census, that you could have dropped off the rolls. And there's some mystery from time to time where it may not be carried over. What happens is that provisional ballot is sealed, and it will be examined later. And you can track these and then at least you can make sure that when they get back to the office, they look at it and you have some chance that will count. That would be a good story to follow up. People need to assert themselves especially in this election. And it is possible, in our age of computer technologies, as we all know, to fall off the list.

DOYLE: And where will you be spending election night?

HENNELLY: I will probably be traveling around because this is a shoe leather kind of thing. And because of what's going on right now, because of the unresolved issues of 2020 It's important for the media to be out in the field. In some parts of the country, we're already seeing in some early states some just difficult things--- the kinds of things that we used to see in the Deep South, where

people of color were targeted by the Klan. We're now starting to see this kind of voter suppression and intimidation throughout the country. I mean, let's face it, Doug, did you ever think you'd see the stars and bars inside the U.S. Capitol after a violent takeover [Jan. 6] where we almost lost control of that building that even during the Civil War, the South didn't enter?

DOYLE: That’s WBGO reporter Bob Hennelly, always on point and doing the in-depth reporting that's so valuable to everyone. Thanks for joining us Bob and happy Election Day.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.